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A punter's lot is not a happy one

Especially one who, like Brian Moorman, just got cut.

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Shaun Suisham and Brian Moorman chat in Dallas last season.
Shaun Suisham and Brian Moorman chat in Dallas last season.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

When the Steelers signed Brian Moorman on April 30th, it wasn't at all clear whether he was merely a "camp leg" to push incumbent Drew Butler or whether he had a genuine shot at the job. It is not at all uncommon for the Steelers to sign another person to provide some competition in camp (and in fact they did the same with Danny Hrapmann, despite the fact there was no reason to believe they were dissatisfied with Shaun Suisham.)

Moorman was a bit of an anomaly, though. Rather than a young guy, they uncharacteristically went with not just a veteran but one with a (very) long and impressive history. As ProFootballTalk noted at the time of the signing, Moorman was the top of the list of unemployed punters. If for no other reason than Moorman's resume, it was obvious this was a serious position battle.

While incumbent Drew Butler wasn't terrible by any means, he posted a 38.3 net average last season, good for only 25th out of 32 punters. However, Moorman's 38.9 net average wasn't markedly better—he was ranked 23rd in average length. However—and this can cut both ways—the career average for both men is 39.7. It's just Moorman has a lot more data to go into that calculation. For the sake of a reference point, the best punter in 2012 in terms of net average, the New Orlean Saint's Thomas Morstead, averaged 43.2 yards. The worst, (at least the worst who played a substantial number of games,) was Carolina's Brad Nortman, at 37.0.

Let's look at a few of the other stats which go into judging a punter, though. Net average is only one of them. How about hang time? I kept hearing how amazing Moorman's hang time was before I went to camp, and the punts did seem to stay up there quite a while.  The lowest figure for Maximum Hang Time reported last season was 5.00 seconds, recorded by Reggie Hodges of the Cleveland Browns. The longest was 5.80 by Shawn Powell, the punter who replaced Moorman with the Buffalo Bills. Butler's maximum was 5.10 seconds, putting him at No. 28. Moorman's 5.30 put him at No. 12.

Interestingly, the longest punt made last year among all punters was by Drew Butler, for 79 yards. Moorman's relatively pedestrian long of 64 puts him at No. 19. Neither number, of course, tells us how long a punt was required in the those particular circumstances.

Here's a stat which has a lot of real-life application—the percentage of punts which ended up inside the 20-yard line. Arizona's Dave Zastudil won that competition, with a stellar 48 punts pinning the team behind their own 20. But how does that relate to their total punts? Zastudi, as you might suspect, punted a LOT. About 43% of his 112 punts ended up inside the 20. Brian Moorman pinned the opposition inside the 20 only 23 times, but that was in 56 total punts, giving him a 41% average. Drew Butler downed the football inside the 20 yard line 30 times, but that was in 77 attempts, meaning that less than 39% of his punts pinned his opponent deep.

In case you're wondering, the best percentages were by Dustin Colquitt of Kansas City (55.5%) and San Francisco's Andy Lee (52.2%). No one else got as many as 50% of their punts inside the opposing 20. The worst by far was Mat McBriar of the Eagles, with a woeful 23.6% of his punts pinning the opponents deep.

How about returns? Perhaps the most telling stat, really, is how many yards the ball is returned. Of course this is a team stat, as a punter is dependent upon his special teams to hold the returner. But one punter stood out from the crowd—Adam Podlesh of the Bears. Despite not having a very hugely impressive percentage inside the 20 (42%), less than a third of his punts were returned, and the total return yards for the season is barely larger than the total number of punts (84 yards in 81 punts.) But what about the two men in question?

44.6% of Moorman's punts were returned, for a total yardage of 257. This puts him at No. 10. The average per punt was 4.6 yards. Butler's total yardage was considerably more—306 yards—but when you divide it by his total punts it comes in at just under a 4-yard average.

As we can see, the two men aren't terribly far apart in the individual stats. So how did Pro Football Focus rate them last season? Not very highly, I fear. Butler was rated No. 26, with a total score of 9.9; Moorman was No. 31, with a total of 2.5. (The highest-ranked punter last season was Houston's Donnie Jones, who was given a score of 32.5.)

Brian Moorman began his season in Buffalo, was cut, and was picked up by Dallas. His numbers were quite a bit better in Dallas than they had been in Buffalo. But his numbers in Dallas were still not as good as his career average, and the question I'm sure the Steelers were pondering was whether last year was an anomaly or the beginning of the end.

Let's look at his rankings for the previous four seasons (as far back as Pro Football Focus goes):

  • 2008—No. 12
  • 2009—No. 12 (right ahead of Pittsburgh's Daniel Sepulveda)
  • 2010—No. 27 (Sepulveda was No. 13 that year)
  • 2011—No. 15

Moorman has had a great career since going undrafted in 1999. It took him two seasons to find a home, but he debuted for Buffalo in 2001 and never looked back. Among other honors, Moorman was elected the punter for the NFL's All-Decade team and was elected twice to the Pro Bowl, in 2005 and 2006.

Moorman believes in giving back to the community. He and his wife established the PUNT Foundation to provide help and support to families in Western New York who are dealing with pediatric cancer. But he doesn't just write a check and leave it at that. As a family who has been assisted by his foundation writes:

When we were moving from Jacksonville, FL to Buffalo NY, one of the first phone calls I received was from Brian Moorman. He had heard that we were coming to the area through a similar charitable foundation in Florida. He wanted to see how he could help us and to make us feel comfortable in our new community. Since that time he has been there for our children and family many times. The events that the Punt Foundation runs have been some of the highlights of their year. Savannah, Noah and Grace count Brian and Amber as members of our extended family.

Solid punter, solid character—when we look at what Moorman brings to the table we can see why the Steelers picked him up. But from a long-term standpoint it isn't too surprising the Steelers would go with the (much) younger Butler rather than the 37-year-old vet unless Moorman was so clearly superior they had no choice.

I wish Mr. Moorman well, and hope he looks back on his brief time in the 'Burgh with fondness. I also hope, naturally, that Drew Butler will justify the faith the Steelers have in him. He certainly looked good in Carolina. Let's go, Drew, and let's go, Steelers!

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